by Jeanne Andrews

Woman’s voice: “Good morning, Streets Department.”

(above) You’d need a helicopter to get through this mess on Allens Lane. (Photos by Len Lear)

Me: “May I speak to the person who is responsible for the disaster that is the McCallum Street Bridge closure and West Allens Lane?”

Woman: “That’s not us. Call the Water Department.”

Me: “But this IS the Streets Department, and you ARE responsible for street repair within the city; no?”

Woman: “Nope. Call PWD or Traffic Engineering.”


Man’s voice: “Traffic Engineering.”

Me: “I’d like to speak to the person responsible for the traffic planning disaster that is West Allens Lane, please.”

Man: “That’s not our job. Call PWD. Their contractor was supposed to put up detour signs.”

Me: “But you are responsible for traffic planning; no?”

Man: “Mmmm….not really in this case. Call the Water Department.”

Me: “Then perhaps you should change the name of your department to something more appropriate, like “Traffic messes — Creation and Deflection.” (Click.)


Man’s voice: “Water Department Construction office.”

Me: “Hi. Are you the person responsible for the hour it takes to wander through Mt. Airy and Germantown at rush hour, with no detour signage, spontaneous pop-up road closures, incompetence, indifference and road rage?”

Man: “I take no responsibility for anything.” (Laughs.)

Me: “So who can fix this?”

Man: “It’s the City Engineering Department. Call them. It’s not our fault.”

Me: “Too late. They already threw you under the bus.”

Man: (Laughs again.) “Of course.” Sighs. “This wasn’t our finest hour.”

Me: “Ah, so it IS your fault. Are you aware that the streets that AREN’T being ripped up and closed in Mt. Airy by PWD ARE being ripped up and closed by PGW? Is there any communication between city departments with regards to signage, road closures or traffic control? These are all CITY departments, after all. We aren’t talking about a few little side streets here.”

Man: “I think we underestimated how much disruption would be caused by closing the McCallum Street Bridge. I’m not admitting to anything, mind you.”

Me: “Wouldn’t it have been a good idea to put up signage ahead of time, alerting people to find alternate routes and using detour signs?”

Man: “Um, yeah. Call PennDOT and the City Traffic Engineering Office. It’s their fault. They issue the permits.”


Woman’s voice: “PGW construction.”

Me: “Did  you know that while you guys are ripping up the only through street in Mt. Airy to Wissahickon Avenue, PWD has closed off all other avenues to center city except Germantown Avenue?  Do you know what a traffic disaster this is for all of Northwest Philadelphia and anyone coming in from the suburbs?”

Woman: “No, I didn’t. And anyway, it’s not our job. It’s the PWD contractor’ job to put up signs. And don’t forget to call the Traffic Engineering office. They issued the permits.”


Man’s voice: “Traffic engineering.”

Me: “So it looks like all fingers are pointing at you guys for this traffic mess.”

Man: “Incorrect. It’s not our job to put up signage. Maybe you should call the Commissioner of Streets.”

Me: “No thanks. I’m exhausted.”

Ed. note: Jeanne Andrews is a Chestnut Hill resident. Her article is being reprinted from the Philadelphia Inquirer with her permission. As a Mt. Airy resident who works in Chestnut Hill, I can confirm that a rush hour trip that normally takes 10 minutes now takes 30 minutes or more, thanks in part to the missing or confusing signage. According to Craig Stover, executive director of Allens Lane Art Center, “What I don’t understand is the lack of basic communication that all parties involved failed to implement. There was no advance warning, no detour signage, less than a 24-hour notice of water being shut off and no overall traffic study to assess the impact of this project.” This is the kind of indifference, cronyism and incompetence you get when you have a one-party system in power in Philadelphia for more than 60 years. Similar to the Soviet Union but without the physical torture. Just the mental torture.


  • Anonymous

    Gotta love the hyperbole all over this piece (with the ed. note taking the cake by far).

    A 20 minute delay is a “disaster” and is akin to living in the Soviet Union. That’s gold!

  • Ivan

    I lived in Moscow for 6 years just after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Russia’s public transportation system is fantastic. Late at night (after midnight), the longest you would ever wait for the subway is 12 minutes. During rush hour, a new train comes every 45 seconds. It’s simply phenomenal, and the mosaics that decorate the older stations are true works of art. The roads were relatively clear (both because cars were in short supply and because public transportation was so good), although cars now clog the streets. Light rail ran regularly and consistently on time. Buses, trolleys and trams were crowded but reliable. Compare that with regional rail trip between Chestnut Hill and Center City? Two trains depart for Chestnut Hill (one to East, one to West) once an hour – at the same time. The worst-served villages had better public transportation than Chestnut Hill.

    But the lack of signage does remind me of an old Russian joke. A man visits Moscow for the first time, and the car he is in crashes into an unmarked ditch recently dug in the road. He turns to his translator and asks him “Why didn’t they put up a warning sign?” His translator, unfazed, turns to him and says: ‘When you flew in to Moscow, didn’t you see a red flag in the airport?” “Yes…” “Well, you were warned.”

  • Seth Itzkowitz

    A repaving of East Mount Airy Avenue in September 1985 lasted two weeks before PGW came in and ripped up a strip of it to install or repair some gas lines.

  • mikeg

    I drove over the bridge today (Saturday)!! Awesome. Allens Lane was still closed, but McCallum was open. Hope it stays that way.

    BTW – Did the author really talk to people like that on the phone? Or was this a satirical piece about how folks from our neighborhood can sometimes behave when they are inconvenienced?